14 killed by bushfires in Australia

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Bushfires across the Australian state of Victoria have killed at least 108 people and have destroyed dozens of homes. These fires were caused by a severe heat wave affecting the country, combined with winds reported to have reached gale force. According to a report by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the fires have burned approximately 30,000 acres (12,140 hectares) of land since they began on Friday. State police officials stated that there are still several more fires being fought, and feared that the death toll could reach as much as double the currently confirmed number when all fires are extinguished and investigations begin.

Bushfire burning west of Bendigo.
Image: Richmeister.

Temperatures in Victoria today reached 46° Celsius (115° Fahrenheit), with the combination of temperatures and high winds helped to fuel the fires. The fire was reported to be moving at an estimated 60 kilometers per hour (40 miles per hour). "This has been an absolute tragedy for the state and we believe this figure may only get worse. We're concerned this figure could even reach up into the 40s," stated Kieran Walshe, the Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner, referring to the death toll.

"The whole of Kinglake is ablaze, I live a couple of kilometers out of town, I heard explosions, by the time I got to the road there were fires everywhere. [There is] flame everywhere, trees exploding, gas tanks exploding, buildings on fire, it's very, very, very serious," said a resident of Kinglake, a small township north of Melbourne that was greatly affected by the flames. "I can't quite see down into the main stretch of town, but there's a lot of flame coming up from there, so I presume most of the town is going up," he also stated. Kinglake has had the most deaths in the fire outbreak so far, where it was reported that six people traveling in a car were all killed when it was set ablaze by the raging flames.

Over 30,000 volunteers are currently fighting the blazes across the country, along with the help of helicopters and aircraft dropping chemicals and water onto the site hoping to help extinguish the fire. Greg Esnouf, the Victoria Country Fire Authority deputy chief, stated that conditions for firefighters were "off the scale" dangerously, and also stated that the forecast for Sunday would not be different than the previous few days.

Victoria Police have reported that they are suspecting that some of the fires were lit through arson, and are currently in the process of questioning a resident about a fire that started outside of the city. Another man was arrested in connection with deliberately lighting the fire, but was released by police and had arson charges dropped.

According to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, the heat wave is expected to continue throughout the weekend and peaking in the southeastern part of the country, with temperatures not expected to get cooler until early next week.


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